RE: Conflict Resolution: 10 ideas
From: Rob Sandelin (Exchange) (
Date: Tue, 28 May 1996 12:38:46 -0500
Here are some notions I have about conflict resolution within community,
based on a few mediations with groups and my own observations from my
own community endeavors. My overall first and foremost advice is to find
a good family counselor in your area and PAY for a whole group conflict
mediation training session or two.

1. Often the first question I ask as a meditator is Why. Why is this
person upset, why are they exhibiting this behavior?, why do they feel
as they do?  Often this goes way beyond the current conflict. Many times
the current issue is only the carrier for something else. Getting to the
something else is often very difficult, but offers the greatest reward.
One way to delve into this is to use special, non-business sharing
meetings where members are incouraged to philosophize and share insites,
feelings and histories. For example a member of our group had a huge
attachment to circluar drives, even though they take up huge amounts of
space. It turned out that as a child her best friend was killed by being
backed over by her fathers truck. Until we knew that, we did not
understand where she was coming from. With that understanding we created
a solution. It was not until someone asked her why she felt so strongly
about this that SHE even understood her feelings. It took her a week to
figure it out.

2. Write down the behaviors that are causing problems than make a
contract to fix them. When I mediate in a group I prefer to remain in
the background for awhile just making observations. It can often be very
instructive for one or two members to be the vibes recorders - write
down peoples behaviors as if you were watching animals in some sort of
scientific study - Male A, spoke loudly, waved hands, face got red. Male
B. and Female A made intimatidated facial expressions..... Once you
identify the behavior patterns, then give them labels and make a
contract with yourselves that every time those behaviors are exhibited
they are called. If a problem behavior is shouting, you could label that
voice volume, and then call it when it happens. - "Martha -voice volume"
is all you need to say. Martha will get the clue and reduce her volume.

3. Depersonalize group conflicts by taking away ownership from
individuals. If two or more individuals are in conflict, then take the
issue in conflict away from them and give it to the whole group to
resolve. For example, if Mary and Tina are in conflict over Mary's
childrens behavior at Tina's house, then have the whole group, or a
subgroup find out, 1) exactly what the problem is/was and 2), brainstorm
up at least 5 to 8 ideas to resolve it. By giving ownership of a
conflict to a larger group it can take the pressure off the individuals.
It also gets a lot more brains involved in the solution. If your
conflict resolution expectation is that individuals are responsible for
resolving their own conflicts, then don't expect much unless your group
is made up of very exceptional communicators, like, everyone is a family
counslor. Most people do not have the skills to resolve their own
conflicts very well, and often are way too involved to even see the
obvious, much less the subtle.

4. Have every group member define their hot buttons. Hot buttons are
issues or topics which evoke an immeadiate,gut level emotional response.
Then share these, heck, publish these on a sheet and give it to
everybody. Then have individuals take ownership of these should they
come up. For example, if a hot button for someone is racism, then during
discussions about diversity that person should identify that to the
group, become aware of it themselves, to help them work at calming
themselves. Note- never expect people to change their hot buttons, they
come from core value systems and usually are pretty unchangable. The
best you can do is to become aware of them, and then mitigate the
behaviors which can come from them.

5. The power of thinking. If you find yourself in the midst of a hotly
debated issue, where peoples feelings are pouring out like lava out of a
volcano, take a silence break. Stop the meeting, spend 5-10-15 minutes
in the circle, quietly thinking. No talking allowed. This is very
effective at settling people down.  The faciliator gives the group a
question or two to think about. For example, during thinking time ask
yourself what do I feel about this issue and where did that feeling come
from. You can also ask other thinking questions such as, are my feelings
about this so strong that I am not hearing what others say? Am I
operating with the best for the whole group as my goal? Why do others
think differently about this than I do.  When thinking time is over its
a great opportunity for the facilitator to move the group into someother
frame work such as small groups, focus brainstorm, or into a sharing

6. Be sure to tap the people who don't care either way, they are often
the best solution providers. When a group is divided into factions over
an issue, there are often folks at the edges, who really don't care if
the walkway is gravel or asphalt. The folks who do not have a position
are often very good at seeing things that those locked into a postion do

7. Try it out. If a particular issue lends itself to being changed
later, then try out a solution for a period of time. This will give you
some experience, so when you bring it up later you will have seen what
works and what doesn't. Then try another solution for awhile. Sometimes
the fourth or fifth solution, blends the working elements of all the
previous ones, and is the one that you end up with, but never could have
found because you had no experience.

8. If you are stuck in either/ or thinking then throw away the two
solutions and find the third, fourth and fifth way. If the choice comes
down to blue or green and you can't agree, then throw out blue and green
and see what else comes up. This sometimes shows you that there are more
solutions than you think, or sometimes that the difference between the
two are more obvious than you thought. Until you get perspective, see
more choices, it can be hard to evaluate the difference by only having
two choices.

9. Know yourself. You need to learn how you make decisions, how you
react to people with different opinions than yourself, how you express
yourself, what kinds of things make you uncomfortable, how confident you
are in a group, are you a leader, are you waiting for instructions, etc.
etc. Every time you are in a meeting, a group situation, a conflict, it
provides a great opportunity for you to learn about yourself. The more
of that you can identify clearly and share with each other, the less
conflicts you will have. You can create a survey of questions, then
share the answers in an informal sharing gathering.

10. Be ready to surrender. If you are in a conflict, evaluate your goals
and intentions. Is this issue really worth it? If I give in what will
happen in a year? What is going to happen to my relationship with this
person if this conflict continues? 

Rob Sandelins tip of the day
"Wisdom comes from knowing who you really are." 

Original Message-----
Sent:           Saturday, May 25, 1996 12:14 PM
Subject:        Conflict Resolution

Hello again from Charlottesville Cohousing...

We are developing our conflict resolution procedures, and are wondering
what procedures cohousing groups follow when a member refuses to resolve
conflict.  What type of action is taken by your group?

Mable Kinzie
Charlottesville Cohousing

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